U.S. winter storms cause 10 deaths, flight cancellations, power outages

(Reuters) – At least 10 people died, more than 1,000 flights were canceled and hundreds of thousands were without power in five states on Saturday as a massive winter storm system dumped snow, freezing rain and hail from Texas to Michigan.

Hurricane-force wind gusts, golf-ball-sized hail and 2 to 5 inches (5-13 cm)of snow fell on Friday night and early Saturday as storms pushed from Texas through the Southeast and Great Lakes into Maine, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

More snow with accumulations between 6 to 12 inches was expected through Sunday in parts of Illinois, Michigan, northern New York and New England.

“The real danger comes from the wind and ice accumulation,” said NWS forecaster Bob Oravec in College Park Maryland.

More than half an inch of ice was predicted to cake highways and roads across the South and Northeast from Saturday night to Sunday morning, he said.

“The ice and wind will make driving treacherous, and trees can snap and knock out power and do other damage,” he said.

Two people were killed when the storm destroyed a trailer home in northwestern Louisiana late Friday, according to the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office. Local media reported that a third person died after a tree fell on a home in that state.

A fourth person was killed Friday in the storms when a car slide off the road and into a creek in Dallas, NBC news reported.

A firefighter and a police officer in Lubbock, Texas, were killed Saturday after a car slid on ice-slicked U.S. Interstate Highway 27 as they were investigating a traffic accident, Lubbock Fire officials said.

Three more storm-related deaths occurred in Pickens County in western Alabama, CNN reported, but details were not immediately available.

A 10th person died in southeastern Oklahoma on Saturday morning after the 58-year-old man was swept away while his pickup truck was stalled in deep water on a flooded road, the Houston Chronicle reported.

More than 257,000 homes and businesses were without power across Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas according the tracking site PowerOutage.us. Heavy outages in Texas, Michigan and Illinois were largely repaired by late Saturday afternoon.

The bulk of the nation’s flight delays and cancellations were at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, with more than 1,000 flights canceled and hundreds more delayed, according to flightaware.com.

Tornadoes damaged or destroyed some buildings in Arkansas and Missouri, forecasters said.

NWS said more than 18 million people in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma remained at risk of tornadoes and flooding rains. Oravec said that hurricane-force wind gusts of about 75 mph (120 kph) hit the southeast.

As the system pushes eastward, rain should end overnight in many southern states, but the Northeast and New England can expect severe weather to last for another day, he said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman)

Two powerful storms thrash U.S. as millions head to Thanksgiving celebrations

Two powerful storms thrash U.S. as millions head to Thanksgiving celebrations
(Reuters) – Two major winter storms thrashing the western two-thirds of the United States on Wednesday appear set to disrupt the travel plans of millions of Americans headed to Thanksgiving Day destinations on jam-packed highways and airplanes.

The first storm front was moving across the upper Midwest, where it was forecast to clobber parts of Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota with almost a foot of snow (30 cm) and wind gusts of up to 50 mph (80 kph), making travel difficult if not impossible, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

It also warned of possible winds of up to 60 mph (95 kph) and rainstorms across a wide swath of the central U.S. from western Texas up through Missouri and into Ohio on Wednesday, as millions will hit the roads and board airplanes for the holiday.

The treacherous weather jeopardized travel plans for some of the 55 million Americans expected to fly or drive at least 50 miles (80 km) from their homes for Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday, according to the American Automobile Association.

“It’s a real bummer,” said Ally Lytle, a 20-year-old student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, who will be unable to make 400-mile (645-km) road trip home to Jackson Hole after the storm swept through the area on Tuesday.

The storm had already closed highways across the region and canceled and delayed hundreds of flights in and out of Denver on Tuesday.

Wind gusts of more than 40 mph (65 kph) on the East Coast on Thursday may also ground the giant balloons featured during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, the weather service said in an advisory.

“Look, I know this weather means people won’t get to see their families, might be stranded in airports, etc, and all of that is awful,” said Susan Arendt on Twitter. “But I’ll be really sad if the wind means no balloons in the Macy’s parade.”

The second storm was rapidly intensifying as it pushed toward Oregon and northern California, where damaging winds, coastal flooding and heavy mountain snows of up to 4 feet (120 cm) were forecast, the NWS said.

The front was also expected to dump heavy rain, threatening flash floods across southern California, from San Diego to Los Angeles, the weather service said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Rising U.S. losses from powerful hurricanes flag need for better protection

A police car is submerged in New Orleans East August 31, 2005 after Hurricane Katrina hit the area. Authorities struggled on Wednesday to evacuate thousands of people from hurricane-battered New Orleans as food and water grew scarce and looters raided stores, [while U.S. President George W. Bush said it would take years to recover from the devastation.]

Rising U.S. losses from powerful hurricanes flag need for better protection
By Anna Scholz-Carlson

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Only a few U.S. states are taking significant steps to reduce hurricane risks, as a study this week showed the most damaging storms are now three times as frequent as a century ago and have become the costliest type of disaster, scientists said.

Using a new method, a team at the University of Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute found the frequency of the worst hurricanes had increased 330% over the last century in the United States.

But many government authorities in the country remain unprepared to deal with the surging risk, said Natalie Peyronnin Snider, senior director of coastal resilience for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a U.S.-based advocacy group.

Getting ready would require policy and ground-level changes, including efforts to boost coastal protection, she said.

In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), University of Copenhagen scientists looked at parts of the United States hit by hurricanes in the last century, analysing changes in wealth and population densities to compare losses over time.

Previous research suggested the growing costs of damage from storms were largely due to costlier infrastructure and homes in their path, rather than a rise in the strength or frequency of hurricanes themselves, said Aslak Grinsted, a study lead author.

But the new work showed the growing number of powerful hurricanes was the key factor in increasing losses, he said.

Having clearer information should help communities plan ahead to curb losses, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Louisiana is one of the few states that has a comprehensive plan to deal with a growing hurricane threat, said EDF’s Snider.

In 2012, it launched a $50-billion Coastal Master Plan to elevate homes with severe flooding risk, create more wetlands, restore marshes and create rock breakwaters to better protect communities from surging storms.

The effort aims to help the southern state better weather hurricanes over the next 50 years, according to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority website.

The plan was in part a response to severe losses from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it noted.

Snider said using natural systems to curb hurricane risk – such as wetlands that can absorb excess water and prevent flooding or oyster-covered reefs to absorb wave energy – are cost-effective ways to curb damage from powerful hurricanes.

But Louisiana is not the only state looking to lower its hurricane risks.

In New York, a community-led project aims to restore 1 billion live oysters to New York Harbor by 2035, in part to tackle storm threats, according to its website.

Still, federal and state governments need to do more to protect their people, assets and ecosystems, Snider said.

“It’s really important that we start to be proactive and aggressive … in building resilience in our systems, which not only pays off financially but also for the health of communities,” she said.

Each dollar spent to cut disaster risk can save six dollars otherwise spent recovering after a disaster, she added.

(Reporting by Anna Scholz-Carlson; editing by Laurie Goering and Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

Rains ease, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana still face flood of ‘historic magnitude’

A mattress and dresser drawer are among the debris scattered on a lawn near a damaged house after several tornadoes reportedly touched down, in Linwood, Kansas, U.S., May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Nate Chute

By Alex Dobuzinskis and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Thousands of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana residents braced for more flooding on Thursday as swollen rivers continued to rise, although the threat of rain was expected to ease by the afternoon, officials said.

Many in the U.S. Southern states have already evacuated homes, as of further flooding drove fears that decades-old levees girding the Arkansas River may not hold.

There were no reports of major levee breaks early on Thursday, said Dylan Cooper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“The rivers and tributaries are still rising from all that water flowing downstream from up north,” said Cooper.

“We call it the bathtub effect. There’s only so much water that the levees and reservoirs can hold before that water just spills over,” he said.

The only good news is that it looks like the area is going to have a dry few days into the weekend, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“They can use any dry weather they can get,” said Oravec.

More than a week of violent weather, including downpours and deadly tornadoes, has lashed the central United States, bringing record-breaking floods in parts of the states, turning highways into lakes and submerging all but the roofs of some homes.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson told a news conference on Wednesday, that the state is experiencing a “flood of historic magnitude.”

Flooding has already closed 12 state highways, he said, and 400 households have agreed to voluntary evacuations.

Hutchinson sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday asking for a federal emergency declaration for Arkansas.

The levee system along the Arkansas River “has not seen this type of record flooding” before, Hutchinson said in his six-page letter.

Hutchinson said Trump had promised assistance in an earlier conversation, several media outlets reported.

Rivers were expected to crest by early June to the highest levels on record all the way down to Little Rock, Arkansas, forecasters said.

“We’ve had river highs of 44.9 feet in places,” said Cooper of the Arkansas River. “We’re blowing through records.”

In Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second largest city, Mayor G.T. Bynum warned that the city’s levees were being tested “in a way that they have never been before.”

He said the 20-mile (32 km) levee system, which protects some 10,000 people, was working as designed so far and being patrolled around the clock by the Oklahoma National Guard.

At least six people have died in the latest round of flooding and storms in Oklahoma, according to the state’s Department of Health.

More than 300 tornadoes have touched down in the Midwest in the past two weeks. Tornadoes pulverized buildings in western Ohio on Monday, killing one person and injuring scores.

In Louisiana, the Mississippi River was also at record flood levels due to record-breaking rainfalls this spring, forecasters said.

Trump authorized emergency aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the state late on Wednesday.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Mississippi rose above flood stage in early January and has remained there since, forecasters said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

One dead, dozens hurt as tornadoes flatten buildings in Ohio

A family leaves their apartment complex in the morning after a tornado touched down overnight in Trotwood near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

(Reuters) – Tornadoes pulverized western Ohio early on Tuesday, killing one person, injuring scores of others and requiring emergency officials to send out snowplows to clear debris from a major highway, officials and media reports said.

At least one tornado hit Dayton and at least two touched down near the city, including one near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, just east of the city, media reports said.

A child's toy car sits among debris from a tornado that touched down overnight in Trotwood near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

A child’s toy car sits among debris from a tornado that touched down overnight in Trotwood near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

An 81-year-old man was killed in Celina, a small city 65 miles (105 km) north of Dayton, after a tornado sent a vehicle crashing into his home, Celina Mayor Jeffrey Hazel said at a news conference on Tuesday. Another seven people were injured in the storm, three of them seriously, he said.

At least 35 people in and around Dayton went to hospitals with injuries, most of them minor, according to Elizabeth Long, a spokeswoman for the Kettering Health Network.

“We’ve had injuries ranging from lacerations to bumps and bruises from folks being thrown around in their houses due to the storms,” she said.

The latest storm follows tornadoes and floods killed at least six people in Oklahoma during the previous week, including two people in El Reno on Saturday.

More than 60,000 homes and businesses in Ohio were left without power on Monday morning, according to the PowerOutage.US tracking service, and officials advised people to boil water after water plants and pumps went out of service.

Some media outlets reported that rescue workers were going door-to-door in parts of Dayton.

Twitter users posted images of debris flying in the air and damaged mobile homes and cars.

Media images online showed snowplows from the Ohio Department of Transportation clearing debris from U.S. Interstate 75 just north of the city.

The National Weather Service said multiple tornadoes were reported in the Dayton area between 11 p.m. Monday and 1 a.m. Tuesday.

A car is covered with debris that was ripped from an apartments building after a tornado touched down overnight in Trotwood near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

A car is covered with debris that was ripped from an apartments building after a tornado touched down overnight in Trotwood near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

“The storm system is weakening as it pushes into West Virginia and Virginia, but along with the winds, it has dropped about two or three inches 3 inches (5-8 cm)of rain in just two hours,” said Zack Taylor, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Seven people were reported injured in the storm in Pendleton, Indiana, on Monday, about 100 miles (160 km) west of Dayton, according to media reports. More damage was reported in Celina, Ohio, about 78 miles (125 km) north of Dayton.

Flooded areas of Arkansas and Oklahoma were bracing for more rain that will feed the already swollen Arkansas River, forecasters said on Monday. Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri have all activated National Guard units to respond to the storms.

Early on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump expressed his support for Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican. Trump promised support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Millions of Americans were under flood warnings on the Memorial Day holiday. Deluges hit Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.

In Tulsa, officials were monitoring the Arkansas River after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers raised the flow at the upriver Keystone Dam by 65% since last week to 275,000 cubic feet per second. The heavier flow is testing two aging levees in Tulsa, the city said.

In Missouri, tornadoes and severe storms killed three people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes last week.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)

Storms and sweltering heat seen hitting U.S. South on Memorial Day

FILE PHOTO: A path of destruction through the Skyview Mobile Park Estates is seen in an aerial photo after a tornado touched down overnight in El Reno, Oklahoma, U.S. May 26, 2019. REUTERS/Richard Rowe

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Sweltering heat, storms and possible twisters were expected to hit the U.S. southern Plains and southeastern states on Memorial Day after a spate of deadly tornadoes and flooding in the region.

Temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) were forecast in cities from Jacksonville, Florida, up the southeast into Macon and Savannah Georgia, and on to Charleston, South Carolina, the National Weather Service said.

“This is super hot for this time of year,” said John Deese, a NWS forecaster in Peachtree, Ga., near Atlanta.

“This is a heat wave across the south, and it’s going to be here for a while,” said Deese, predicting high temperatures through the week staying in the mid to high 90s in the region.

The risk of strong tornadoes are moderate but remain possible through the week for the southeastern Plains states, already hit by lethal twisters last week, forecasters said.

The latest severe tornado killed two people in El Reno, Oklahoma late Saturday, injured at least 29 people, and left hundreds homeless, officials said.

Four more people were killed in the same storm in Oklahoma, CNN reported Sunday.

Rescue workers on Sunday searched for survivors in the rubble left by the tornado that devastated parts of the small community near Oklahoma City, officials said.

At least seven other people were killed by storms last week.

U.S. southern Plains including Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas and parts of Ohio will remain under flood watches and warnings through the week, as rains, wind, hail and possible twisters are in the forecast, said David Roth of the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park Maryland.

As for the southeast from Florida to Virginia – “It’ll stay hot,” he said. “This weather pattern is just parked, persistent.”

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Tornado hits near Tulsa, Oklahoma airport as five states brace for severe weather

A tornado spins during stormy weather in Mangum, Oklahoma, U.S., May 20, 2019, in this still image taken from video from social media. Lorraine Matti via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – A tornado was spotted near the main airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, as 22 million people in the central United States faced a severe weather system that brought hail, heavy rain and flooding, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

The silhouette of a tornado appears during a lightning strike in Haskell, Oklahoma, U.S., May 20, 2019 in this image obtained from social media. Matthew Harden via REUTERS

The silhouette of a tornado appears during a lightning strike in Haskell, Oklahoma, U.S., May 20, 2019 in this image obtained from social media. Matthew Harden via REUTERS

The twister near Tulsa International Airport was one of at least 22 that have ripped through the region since late Monday evening, according to the NWS. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries and airport officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A tornado spins during stormy weather in Mangum, Oklahoma, U.S., May 20, 2019, in this still image taken from video from social media. Clint Lively via REUTERS

A tornado spins during stormy weather in Mangum, Oklahoma, U.S., May 20, 2019, in this still image taken from video from social media. Clint Lively via REUTERS

“More tornadoes are on the way today,” said NWS forecaster Rich Otto.

The NWS said it expected severe weather across Texas, Louisiana and into Alabama and as far north as Iowa and Nebraska throughout the day and into the night on Tuesday.

Flooding in the area forced evacuations and high water rescues overnight, local media reported.

Some 4 million people were under a flash flood warning or watch through Tuesday in the region.

On Monday, the NWS said the risk of tornadoes in the region was higher than at any time in years.

Local media and officials reported that some homes and businesses were damaged but it was not immediately known if there were any serious injuries.

“Flooding is still the big concern,” Otto said. “Some areas could get another 2 inches (5 cm) of rain today, but that comes after another 5 to 10 inches (13-25 cm) some areas have already seen.”

A new storm system is brewing and could hit the same southern states later this week.

“The whole area is in the bullseye, with more rounds of severe storms possible,” the forecaster said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Heavy rain and widespread power outages hit southeast Texas, Louisiana

Rainfall and flooding for 5-10-19 - 5-11-19 National Weather Service

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Hailstones the size of golf balls accompanied by as much as four inches of rain pelted the U.S. Gulf coast from Texas to Louisiana, flooding highways, downing power lines and closing some schools, officials said.

About 150,000 homes and businesses in Texas were without electricity early Friday and another 15,000 customers were in the dark in Louisiana, local power companies said.

“Most of this storm developed right over Houston Thursday evening,” said Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

“Some of the rainfall was outlandishly fast,” Burke said. “Several of our reliable rain-spotters reported seeing multiple inches of rain in under an hour. That much water in a short time just accelerates the amount of damage that can happen.”

There were no confirmed reports of tornadoes overnight, but the rain comes atop several days of heavy precipitation. Some southeastern Texas communities received a total of 10 inches of rain since Tuesday, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.

Houston’s 209,000 public school students got the day off as the city’s Independent School District, the state’s largest school system, said it was shutting down its 280 campuses on Friday because of inclement weather.

Police did not have an assessment of damage or injuries early Friday, but the Houston Chronicle reported that parts of the U.S. Interstate 10 highway in the city was closed late Thursday in east Houston, stranding at least 40 motorists.

The Houston Fire Department rescued two people from a submerged car that flipped into a rain-filled ditch late Thursday, the Chronicle and other media reported.

Burke said the worst of the storm had pushed off eastward early Friday.

“The only good news is that the storm didn’t linger,” he said. “But Louisiana, Mississippi, western Alabama and southern Tennessee are all under the gun today.”

Flash flood warnings and flood watches were in effect from east Texas to Knoxville, Tennessee.

Danger persists from additional flooding along the southern Mississippi River and its tributaries, officials said.

More rain is in the forecast for the area this weekend, Burke said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Peter Graff and Steve Orlofsky)

Second wave of tornadoes, thunderstorms to pummel the U.S. South and Midwest

National Weather forecast for 4-17-19

(Reuters) – Tornadoes and thunderstorms will hit the U.S. South and Midwest for a second time this week, starting Wednesday afternoon and pushing eastward, forecasters said.

At least five people, including three children, were killed over the weekend in a storm system that drove more than three dozen tornadoes across the U.S. South.

Communities in central Texas and western Louisiana, already hit by flash floods and twisters in the first round, will be hit once more by high winds, twisters and intense rain, according to AccuWeather and the NWS.

“This is a dangerous, vigorous storm,” Jim Hayes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland, said early Wednesday.

The storm is expected to stretch from Iowa and Missouri in the north through Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to the south, said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist John Feerick.

“Dallas and Oklahoma City, from there on eastward is probably at greatest threat from damaging winds, flooding downpours and tornadoes,” said Feerick.

Northern Oklahoma could be pelted with hail 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter, or larger, on Wednesday, the NWS tweeted.

NWS forecaster Hayes said the storm gets its initial fuel from warm, moist air over the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’ll kick-up this afternoon over southern Kansas and about all of Oklahoma, with rain, wind gusts of 65 mph, hail and tornadoes.”

“The worst will hit before midnight,” he added. “By early Thursday it’ll push into Kentucky and Alabama.”

As the storm tracks eastward, it will extend from Indiana south to Florida by late Thursday, hitting the Atlanta area that night and the Atlantic coast the next day.

Picking up moisture from the ocean, the system is likely to produce intense thunderstorms up the eastern seaboard as far north as New York state.

New York City, Philadelphia and Washington may face travel delays from the rain and possibly property damage from high winds, AccuWeather warned.

Flash flooding could remain a threat in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts on Saturday, the weather service said.

(Reporting Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Exclusive: More than 1 million acres of U.S. cropland ravaged by floods

Justin Mensik, corn and soybean farmer, attends to his cattle at his farm in Morse Bluff, Nebraska, U.S. March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Humeyra Pamuk

By P.J. Huffstutter and Humeyra Pamuk

CHICAGO/COLUMBUS, Neb. (Reuters) – At least 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of U.S. farmland were flooded after the “bomb cyclone” storm left wide swaths of nine major grain producing states under water this month, satellite data analyzed by Gro Intelligence for Reuters showed.

Farms from the Dakotas to Missouri and beyond have been under water for a week or more, possibly impeding planting and damaging soil. The floods, which came just weeks before planting season starts in the Midwest, will likely reduce corn, wheat and soy production this year.

“There’s thousands of acres that won’t be able to be planted,” Ryan Sonderup, 36, of Fullerton, Nebraska, who has been farming for 18 years, said in a recent interview.

“If we had straight sunshine now until May and June, maybe it can be done, but I don’t see how that soil gets back with expected rainfall.”

FILE PHOTO: Paddocks at Washington County Fairgrounds are shown underwater due to flooding in Arlington, Nebraska, U.S., March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Humeyra Pamuk -File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Paddocks at Washington County Fairgrounds are shown underwater due to flooding in Arlington, Nebraska, U.S., March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Humeyra Pamuk -File Photo

Spring floods could yet impact an even bigger area of cropland. The U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned of what could be an “unprecedented flood season” as it forecasts heavy spring rains. Rivers may swell further as a deep snowpack in northern growing areas melts.

The bomb cyclone of mid-March was the latest blow to farmers suffering from years of falling income and lower exports because of the U.S.-China trade war.

Fields are strewn with everything from silt and sand to tires and some may not even be farmed this year. The water has also destroyed billions of dollars of old crops that were in storage, as well as damaging roads and railways.

Justin Mensik, a fifth-generation farmer of corn and soybeans in Morse Bluff, Nebraska, said rebuilding roads was the first priority. Then farmers would need to bring in fertilizer trucks and then test soil before seeding, Mensik said.

The flood “left a lot of silt and sand and mud in our fields, now we’re not too sure if we’re going to be able to get a good crop this year with all the new mud and junk that’s just laying here,” Mensik told Reuters.

CORN CONCERN

For farmers, “the biggest concern right now is corn planting,” said Aaron Saeugling, an agriculture expert at Iowa State University who does outreach with farmers. “There is just not going to be enough time to move a lot of that debris.”

To be fully covered by crop insurance, Iowa farmers must plant corn by May 31 and soybeans by June 15, as yields decline dramatically when planted any later. Deadlines vary state by state. The insurance helps ensure a minimum price farmers will receive when they book sales for their crops.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecast on Friday farmers would increase corn plantings by 4.1 percent from last year, but the estimate did not account for the flooding.

Nearly 1.1 million acres of cropland and more than 84,000 acres of pastureland in the U.S. Midwest had flood water on it for at least seven days between March 8 and March 21, according to a preliminary analysis of government and satellite data by New-York based Gro Intelligence at the request of Reuters. The extent of the flooding had previously not been made public.

The flooded acreage represents less than 1 percent of U.S. land used to grow corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, cotton, sorghum and barley. In 2018, some 240 million total acres of these crops were planted in the United States, USDA data shows.

Iowa, the top U.S. corn and No. 2 soy producing state, had the most water, covering 474,271 acres, followed by Missouri with 203,188 acres, according to Gro Intelligence. That was in line with estimates given to Reuters this week by government officials in Iowa and Missouri.

Gro Intelligence used satellite data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Near Real-Time Global Flood Mapping product, to calculate the approximate extent and intensity of flooding.

Gro Intelligence then identified how much of this area was either cropland or pastureland, according to data from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Gro Intelligence analysts cautioned the satellite imagery did not show the full extent of flooding in Nebraska, where officials declined to provide acreage estimates to Reuters, or in North Dakota. Nebraska’s governor has said the floods caused agricultural damage of $1 billion in his state.

Cloud cover or snow on the ground makes it difficult to identify the flood waters in NASA satellite data, said Sara Menker, chief executive of the agricultural artificial intelligence company.

LOST CATTLE

In Missouri, floodwaters covered roughly 200,000 acres in five northwest counties adjoining the Missouri River as of Wednesday morning, said Charlie Rahm, spokesman for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Columbia.

In Wisconsin more than 1,000 dairy and beef animals were lost during winter storms and 480 agricultural structures collapsed or damaged, according to an email from Sandy Chalmers, executive director of the Wisconsin state office of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

In the Dakotas and Minnesota, melting snows in coming months will put spring wheat planting at risk. Gro Intelligence found nearly 160,000 acres have already been flooded in Minnesota.

“That’s yet to come and we will deal with that at least until the middle of April,” said Dave Nicolai, an agriculture expert at the University of Minnesota.

(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago and Humeyra Pamuk in Nebraska; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek and Karl Plume in Chicago; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Simon Webb, Matthew Lewis and James Dalgleish)